Entries Tagged 'Teaching Writing' ↓

How to write a fairy tale | Exploring genre

Teach kids how to write a fairy tale by including a sympathetic character, evil villain, magical elements, faraway places, and plot twists.

Most kids are familiar with fairy-tale stories like Rapunzel, Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin and Cinderella. 

Usually written for children, fairy tales tell about the adventures of imaginary beings in faraway lands. This activity will help you teach your kids how to write a fairy tale.

What Is a Fairy Tale?

The fairy tale genre needs to include certain basic elements. Otherwise, it may not be a fairy tale at all! These characteristics mark a story as a fairy tale:

  • It usually begins with Once upon a time, Long ago, or Once there was a.
  • The story takes place in a distant or make-believe land.
  • It features imaginary characters such as dragons, fairies, elves, and giants.
  • Things happen in threes and sevens (three bears, three wishes, seven brothers).
  • Wishes are often granted.
  • A difficult problem is solved at the end of the story.
  • Good triumphs over evil.
  • The story has a happy ending.

In addition, a fairy tale will often include:

  • Royal characters such as kings and princesses
  • Talking animals
  • Magical elements such as magic beans, fairy dust, enchanted castle

How to Write a Fairy Tale

1. Who is the hero or heroine?

Children naturally want to see the main character succeed against the odds! Help your child pick a likeable character for her story. Usually it is someone who is an underdog—mistreated or misunderstood. This character is often humble, innocent, or kind-hearted.

As you talk about familiar fairy tales, point out how the “good” character is someone the reader cares about—the hero of the story. Examples: Snow White, Rapunzel, Aladdin, the Three Little Pigs

2. Who is the villain?

Every fairy tale has a villain, someone who has evil intentions toward the main character. This evil character wants to control or harm the main character, sometimes using magic powers to do so. Examples: Big bad wolf, evil queen, Cinderella’s stepmother

3. What is the magical element of the story?

Most fairy tales include a magical ingredient. Guide your child to choose a friend, guardian, or magic element that helps the hero and adds enchantment to the story. This is a good place to include those magic numbers of three or seven. Examples: Fairy godmother, genie in a magic lamp, three gifts

4. Where will the story take place?

The setting can affect the mood of the story. For example, a forest can be filled with friendly critters and patches of sunlight, or it can be dark, gloomy, and scary. Often, the setting will start out dark and foreboding and become cheerful at the end. Other times, the setting will start with a friendly feeling, but when the main character first encounters evil, the mood of the setting will change.

Ask your child to choose a setting and decide what the mood (or moods) will be. Examples: woods, castle, tower, cottage, garden

5. What lesson will the story teach?

A fairy tale usually teaches a lesson about excellence in conduct or character. Help your child decide on the lesson her fairy tale will teach. Examples: loyalty, bravery, kindness, integrity, hard work, sacrifice

6. What is the story plot?

Our hero needs to face a challenge. The obstacle might be a destination the character must reach. There may be a person to rescue or a spell to break, or the main character may need to find true love. Examples: Snow White must stay safe from the evil queen, true love will break the Beast’s spell, Hansel and Gretel need to escape from the gingerbread house

7. What is the happy ending?

It isn’t a fairy tale without a happy ending! How is the challenge resolved? What leads to happily ever after? How does the villain get what is coming to him? Examples: The glass slipper fits Cinderella’s foot, the Beast turns back into a prince, the Ugly Duckling becomes a lovely swan

Variation for Younger Children

If you’re just beginning to explore this genre with your child, and she’s not quite ready to write a fairy tale on her own, encourage her to rewrite a favorite story instead. Changing some of the elements in a familiar story is a great way to learn more about how to write a fairy tale!

WriteShop Primary Book B | Grades 1-3Are you looking for a more formal approach to teaching writing? Among other engaging activities, WriteShop Primary Book B includes a step-by-step lesson on how to write a fairy tale. Level B is especially suited to grades 1-3.

Copyright © 2014 by Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Photo: Carl Offterdinger, courtesy of Creative Commons

How writing is like cooking

I love writing analogies! This post explains how writing is like cooking.

By Daniella Dautrich

In many ways, writing is like cooking or decorating: the key elements are variety, beauty, organization, and harmony.

Stop and take a good look around your home. Savor the aroma of rich stew simmering on the stove, and admire the colorful pillows piled on the sofa. The keys to teaching and practicing fantastic writing might be hiding right under your nose.

Writing Is like Cooking: It’s All about Variety

Whether we’re planning weekly menus or a special holiday feast, variety is the magic word. We try to alternate hot and cold dishes. We aim to please our family’s palates by pairing blander, starchy items with spicier foods. We excite the taste buds with sweet and savory combinations while serving a variety of colors for the sake of beauty and nutrition. And, of course, we include different textures—few people can stand an all-squishy diet of oatmeal, yogurt, mashed potatoes, and Jell-O!

Writing is a lot like cooking. A colorful sentence or crisp new word can increase the flavor of any composition.

A well-planned paragraph displays a wide range of sentence structures. Clearly, adverbs, present participles, and past participles used as sentence-starters can lend an aura of spice and surprise. Beginning sentences with prepositions adds interest and appeal. Short sentences add punch.

Writers should also stir in delicious new words for flavorful, concrete writing. Instead of repeating the same old words in their paragraphs, your kids can find synonyms for a fresh sound every time!

Writing Activity
The next time you serve a new dish for lunch or dinner, ask your kids to describe it in as many ways as possible. How many adjectives can they come up with?

Explain one step of the preparation/cooking process to them. Challenge them to rephrase what you told them in several different ways. Can they explain it back to you using both short and long sentences?

Writing Is like Decorating: Embrace the Limits

Writing can also be compared to decorating. I like to think of decorating as the art of embracing limitations. The size and purpose of a room—as well as the family budget—present limits. Within these boundaries, we aim for organization, balance, and harmony.

We choose colors to create the desired mood. If you want a relaxing bathroom, you might choose creams or blues, but probably not bright orange. If you want an energetic, cheerful kitchen, you might opt for green or yellow curtains, but probably not a black floor or gray walls.

Writing demands similar judgment calls. Consider the scope and purpose of a paragraph. Is it organized around one topic? If a particular sentence doesn’t belong, take it out. Over-eager children sometimes clutter their writing with too many thoughts. Encourage your son or daughter to remove a few ideas, saving them for new paragraphs later.

Teach your kids to “decorate” their writing to suit the mood. If they’re writing about a serious topic, silly stories and examples probably don’t belong. If they’re writing to a casual audience, keep the flowery words to a minimum.

Writing Activity
The next time you edit a piece of your child’s writing, look for an idea, phrase, or sentence that just doesn’t seem to belong. Prompt your child: “Wouldn’t this be a great topic for another paper?”

Keep the atmosphere light rather than critical by asking your child to look around the room: “Is there something in here, like a knick-knack or a picture on the wall, that doesn’t quite belong? Can you think of a better place in the house where we could put it?” Similarly, if a shelf or tabletop looks especially bare, talk about ways an interesting photo, pretty candle, or other decorative detail might make the space more complete.

If it’s all the same to you, make your child’s day by taking her suggestions!

If you love cooking and decorating, let your hobbies and expertise influence the way you teach writing. Your enthusiasm will spill over to your children, and maybe—just maybe—they’ll never see writing the same way again.

Photo: Thor, courtesy of Creative Commons

Letters of encouragement

Help kids write cheerful, encouraging letters!

By Daniella Dautrich

BEFORE April flies away, we want to highlight National Card and Letter Writing Month! It’s a great time to remind your kids how to format a letter (heading, greeting, body, and closing) with the friendly letter boogie. And, if you’re out shopping, grab a few art and stationery supplies so your kids can design and write homemade birthday cards or creative pen-pal letters.

If you and your family sit down to write a few cards and notes this week, take some time to think about people who could especially use a letter of encouragement. We all know someone in a challenging season of life. You can teach your children to write uplifting, cheerful messages to friends and relatives with these easy tips!

Thinking of You

Ask your child to think of someone who might need an extra ray of sunshine in their day. Maybe you know a:

  • High school student worried about exams.
  • Friend who recently moved to a new town.
  • Widow who can no longer drive to visit her children and grandchildren.

When your child picks a recipient for her “thinking of you” letter, offer her a choice of brightly colored stationery and note cards. Now, it’s time to brainstorm for ideas, such as:

  • A funny story about something that recently happened in your family.
  • An interesting book you enjoyed and your thoughts / recommendation.
  • A recipe you tried and how the dish turned out.

Decorate the finished letter or envelope with stickers, drawings, or funny cartoons. These are always sure to bring a smile!

Get Well Soon

It shouldn’t be hard to think of someone under the weather who would perk up when a letter arrives in the mail. Do you know:

  • An athletic child or teen who is home on crutches?
  • Someone recovering from surgery?
  • A friend who missed a weekly activity (church, sports practice, club meeting, etc.) because they were sick?
  • An elderly friend who doesn’t feel well?

Handwritten notes don’t have to be long to boost a friend’s spirits. Besides the obvious “I’m sorry you’re sick” and “get well soon” lines, your child can be creative and include other encouraging tidbits, such as:

  • A Bible verse or short poem.
  • A recommendation for a song or movie you think they might enjoy.
  • Ideas for activities you can do together when they get well.

After the note is signed, include a tea bag, a pressed flower, or a favorite photograph. Your friend will appreciate these little gifts while they recover from injury or illness.

I’m Sorry

Sometimes, we realize too late that we’ve hurt someone else’s feelings. Has your child ever embarrassed a friend accidentally? Forgotten to include another child in a group game or activity? Help her understand which kind of situations are best forgotten or left alone, and which call for a phone call or letter of apology.

If you decide that a letter is appropriate, help your daughter or son write a sincere, heartfelt note:

  • Begin by explaining why you’re sorry.
  • Tell how much you love / value / respect them, and what their friendship means to you.
  • Express your hope for the relationship (forgiveness, continued friendship, etc.).

Letters of encouragement come in all shapes and sizes, for many seasons and situations in life. Model good letter-writing habits for your children, and soon they’ll look forward to expressing themselves in creative, memorable ways.

Photo: Pete, courtesy of Creative Commons

Kids can learn by teaching others!

Make writing lessons more effective by asking your kids to "teach" others what they're learning!

This article contains affiliate links.

I’ve been writing and blogging for a while now. Yet no matter how many times I’ve read the rules for using hyphens between adjectives, I never got the hang of it. Until last Thursday, that is. That was the day I explained hyphens to someone else.

“No matter what you’re studying, when you turn around and teach someone else, and the sooner the better, you deepen your understanding of the subject.” –Deb Peterson, learning and training consultant

Homeschooling moms are often just one step ahead of the kids as we learn new facts and concepts to teach them. Yet don’t you find that when you prepare a lesson and explain it them, the information becomes implanted in your own mind in deeper, more lasting ways?

Just think how much your kids could benefit from similar opportunities to teach someone else what they’ve been learning!

Older Students: Teach Younger Children

When homeschooling multiple ages, it often makes sense to ask your high schooler to tutor a younger sibling in one or two areas. If 16-year-old Greg is a math whiz, why wouldn’t you want him helping 8-year-old Krista? This teaching time can build brother-sister relationships if you as the parent are careful to foster a spirit of mutual kindness and respect.

But what if that math whiz still struggles with writing and grammar concepts (hyphens, for instance)? You can still ask him to teach a grammar concept to his little sister. It will probably benefit him more than it will Krista—but that’s okay! It’s a great way to cement a concept in his mind as he introduces something new to his younger sibling. While you might not assign this “teaching time” every day, you may find huge benefits in scheduling it once or twice a week.

Example:

Mom: Krista, as part of your grammar lesson, Greg’s going to explain something new about punctuation. I need you to be a good listener, okay?

Krista: Okay.

Greg: I’m learning how to use this little punctuation line called a hyphen. You use it between two adjectives sometimes. Adjectives are words that describe things.

Krista: I know about adjectives!

Greg: Good. Just making sure. So, sometimes you have a sentence with two adjectives in front of a noun, like this: “I wore a warm winter coat.” Do you think we need a hyphen between “warm” and “winter”?

Krista: I don’t know.

Greg: No, because nothing changes when those adjectives work alone. You can either say “warm coat” or “winter coat.”  They’re both right. But, if I changed it to “I wore a button-down shirt,” then you would need a hyphen. That’s because those words can’t work alone to describe my shirt. You wouldn’t say “button shirt” or “down shirt.” That doesn’t even make sense!

Krista: I still don’t get it.

Greg: Okay … the hyphen’s job is to make two words work together as one adjective. Pretend you have a blue striped dress. What are your two adjectives?

Krista: Blue and striped.

Greg: Right! Now, if you want to explain that the stripes—not the dress—are blue, you would use a hyphen and write “blue-striped dress.” The hyphen makes the “blue” and “striped” work together. They become one adjective that describes your dress.

Krista: Hyphens are confusing!

Greg: That’s okay. It just takes practice. How about if we practice with a few more examples? I’ll write down some phrases. I want you to read each phrase, but leave out one of the first two words. If the meaning of the whole phrase changes, we’ll know we need to add a hyphen. Try this one.

Krista: Chocolate covered marshmallow … chocolate marshmallow … wait! The marshmallow isn’t chocolate. It’s white!

Greg: Right! And “covered marshmallow” doesn’t make sense either! That means it needs a hyphen: chocolate-covered marshmallow.

Which of these examples need hyphens?

1. peanut butter cookies   2. three hour flight   3. windy autumn day   4. yellow cotton socks   5. funny looking clown   6. sunny Saturday morning   7. brown haired girl   8. forest green paint

(Answers: 1–yes; 2–yes; 3–no; 4–no; 5–yes; 6–no; 7–yes; 8–yes)

Younger Children: Meet Your Editing Buddy!

WriteShop Primary Book B introduces the idea of using “editing buddies” to encourage young children in the writing and editing process. Choose a small doll, stuffed animal, or action figure that only makes an appearance when it’s time for your first, second, or third-grade child to edit a writing project. Any kid can step into the role of teacher when an editing buddy is there to listen!

Girls are often all too happy to “play school” with their dolls. With a child-sized chalkboard, your daughter will spend hours teaching Saige or Princess Anna how to write reports, poems, or friendly letters. She can also sit side-by-side with her doll as they “work together” to edit a story.

Your boys, however, might resist the idea of playing teacher. You’ll have to think outside the box to make “teaching time” fun! Perhaps your son loves playing army. Ask him to wear camouflage when it’s time for a writing assignment, and surprise him with a G.I. Joe action figure standing at attention on the school table or writing center. Explain that G.I. Joe has been slacking with his writing lately, and the country needs your son to hammer this soldier into shape!

Example:

Mom: Can you tell G.I. Joe why I underlined these three words in your writing assignment?

Child (in a tough, military voice): Because those words are BORING!

Mom: What should G.I. Joe do about that?

Child (yelling like a drill commander): Change them to words that aren’t BORING!

Mom: I’ll let you work on that for a few minutes while I’m on KP duty.

Child: Yes, Ma’am!

Have you ever used editing buddies in your writing lessons? Have you asked your kids to learn by teaching? Share your experience in the comments below!

Daniella DautrichDaniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella also blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Carissa Rogers, courtesy of Creative Commons

6 writing strategies for wordy kids

Writing strategies to help highly verbal children create more concise, manageable stories

I often write about reluctant writers and their struggles to produce just a few sentences.

But what do you do with an enthusiastic, highly verbal student who (when left unchecked) scrawls out a 19-page tome? How can you encourage this eager child—and her boatload of ideas—while helping her write a more manageable story?

Today we’ll take a look at some strategies for reining in wordy writers.

The Problem with Long Stories

Teaching children to self-edit is an important goal. Most kids already have a hard time finding their own errors, but it can be completely overwhelming when they’re faced with that stack of 19 pages to edit, polish, and revise.

Not only that, long stories are often filled with tangents that wander away from the main action, so it’s wise to teach kids to narrow their focus and write concisely.

Until your child has developed the skills to plan, organize, and write cohesively, you’ll want to guide her to write stories of a more manageable length. At first, encourage her to stick to a fixed number of paragraphs. If she wants to embellish and expand (or even write a novel), she can do that in her free time.

In most cases, stories that are super long have these common characteristics: 

  • Overly broad topic
  • Many characters
  • A number of different settings
  • Many plots, subplots, and rabbit trails
  • Long, wordy sentences or run-ons

Writing Strategies for Wordy Kids

Rather than try whittling down a long story into a shorter one, it’s usually much cleaner to start over. Challenge your child to keep her new story to five paragraphs or two typed pages by following a few simple guidelines.

1. Narrow the topic.

Instead of tackling a vast subject like the Ohio flood of 1913, it often helps to take a mental snapshot—zeroing in on one moment in the midst of a bigger experience.

2. Use fewer characters.

Perhaps she could write about one main character who must save his sister as the flood waters rise. Or, she could focus on a member of the Akron fire department who helps one family get to safety.

3. Stick with one setting.

Many changes in scene and setting add to a story’s length. Though a verbal child might want to have multiple scenes in her story, suggest that she settle on one or two. 

4. Limit the passage of time.

Writing about an event that spans days or weeks pretty much guarantees that the story will be long and involved. But if she sticks to a time frame of several hours, she’ll more easily manage the story details. 

5. Choose details wisely.

Details are important! They add color and interest, and they engage the reader. By all means, encourage her to describe characters, emotions, settings, and events. At the same time, caution her that trying to fit in all of her great ideas can bog down the writing or steer her off course. 

6. Be precise and concise.

Enthusiastic writers enjoy words, don’t they? But often, their stories are tangled with awkward sentences and long strings of adjectives.

Without discouraging your student from developing a more mature writing style, explain that long sentences and big words don’t always produce good writing. Guide her to use simple language and choose more precise words.

A helpful strategy is to first invite her to write a skeleton of each sentence that includes a subject and predicate. Once she has the basic story structure in place, she can carefully choose modifiers, sentence variations, figurative language, or other details to expand each sentence and make it more colorful.

Even if their prose is a bit over the top, we’re thrilled when one of our children finds joy in writing. In what ways do you guide your wordy young author to write more concisely?

Image courtesy of bugphai / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Speech-writing tips for high school students

Teach rhetoric and composition with these speech-writing tips for prewriting, writing, and editing.

SPEECH writing offers a rare chance for students to impact an audience in lasting, meaningful ways. Through this kind of communication, they can learn to convey truth in a world with where morals are blurred and virtues are disappearing.

Speech writing combines narrative, descriptive, explanatory, and persuasive skills to make both logical and emotional appeals. After all, rhetoric (the art of persuasion) should engage the whole person, not just the mind or heart.

Even if your teens will never join a speech and debate club, encourage them to give an original speech in a group setting such as a class, family gathering, or graduation party. These speech-writing tips for students should help them get started!

The Prewriting Stage

When you write a speech, the prewriting stage represents about a third of the entire process.

  • Choose a topic you feel strongly about. If you don’t care about the subject matter, neither will your audience.
  • Evaluate your potential audience. Will you speak to a mixed group of teenagers or to a room of retirees? What are their values and interests? What kinds of music and cultural references will they relate to?
  • Understand your purpose. Are you writing a speech to entertain, inform, or persuade? If you intend to persuade, are you trying to reach a like-minded or neutral audience or an openly hostile group?
  • Research and brainstorm. Start gathering your facts and examples, and make a list of possible talking points.

The Writing Stage

Writing the first draft should consume about 20% of your time as a speech writer.

  • Develop a “hook.” You need to capture the audience’s attention at the beginning of the speech and motivate them to keep listening. A humorous story or a startling statistic may serve this purpose, depending on the type of speech you’re writing.
  • Construct a thesis. Your speech should present a clear message, with each sub-point logically leading to the final conclusion.
  • Build a relationship with the audience. Establish your credibility as a speaker by demonstrating your connection to the topic. Did a hobby, a favorite author, or a family experience lead you to choose this subject?
  • Organize your ideas. Offer a preview of what’s to come in the introduction, and be sure you follow those points in order.
  • Finish with a strong conclusion. When you reach the end of your speech, restate your thesis and tie everything back to your introduction.

The Editing Stage

The editing stage requires another third of your time as a speech writer. As you revise, check for these items:

  • Grammar. Poor writing could cause an audience to stop taking you seriously, even if your main message is solid.
  • Style. In the writing stage, you focused on substance (what to say); now you can focus on style (how to say it). Without resorting to overdone “purple prose,” you can practice writing techniques such as parallelism, repetition, alliteration, and series or lists.
  • Time. Read your speech out loud. It shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes.
  • Sound. When you read the speech aloud, do you stumble over unnatural words and phrases? Perhaps you need to rewrite with more direct, simple language. Is your flow of thoughts easy to understand? Is your vocabulary appropriate to the audience’s age and education?
  • Appeal to the senses. Your speech should engage the imagination—not put people to sleep! Do you use figurative language to help the audience visualize concepts? Include a descriptive passage to help them hear, feel, and touch your topic. Try to include narratives that people will identify with. You don’t need too many details… just enough to make the stories ring true and help you explain your persuasive points or morals.
  • Organization. You can arrange your speech chronologically, topically, by comparison/contrast, or in some other way. Just be sure you’re consistent.
  • Politeness. Have you used appropriate language throughout? Have you written with respect for yourself and others? The best speeches display compassion and empathy, rather than tear others down.

The Pre-Performance Stage

Once you’ve written and revised your speech, it’s time to practice! Try to memorize it, and watch your speed so you don’t speak too quickly. Practice in front of a mirror so you remember to move naturally, incorporating hand/arm gestures and facial expressions. Experiment with volume, high and low pitch, and pauses (take notes about what works and what doesn’t.)

Finally, have confidence! Stage fright is part of life, but the greatest performers have learned that passion and honesty set the speaker—and the audience—at ease every time.

Daniella Dautrich studied classical rhetoric at a liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Michigan.

Photo: Liz West, courtesy of Creative Commons

Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

Writing fictional stories: The creative process

Teens and adults will enjoy the three building blocks of the creative process to help with writing fictional stories.

This post contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure policy.

PERHAPS you’ve always wanted to write a fictional story based on an old family photograph, but never knew quite where to begin. Or maybe you have a child who bubbles over with stories, and you want to gently offer guidance for the story-writing process. Whether you are young or old, writing fictional stories can be a wonderfully stretching, self-expressive, and even healing process.

The art of creating fiction is a fluid process. Ideas lead to outlines; outlines lead to new ideas. Writing a first draft may reveal new possibilities for characters and settings, so you decide to outline again, and more ideas emerge.

Whatever your plan of action, don’t be afraid to write. Write honestly and courageously, and write as often as you can. As your story unfolds, keep these three building blocks of the creative process always in mind.

Unlikely Combinations: The Brainstorming Process

Original stories spring from curious minds. What if my childhood toaster came to life? What if a mail-order bride was secretly a spy? The possibilities are endless when you open your mind and heart to unlikely combinations. A deaf composer, a blind ice skater, a baseball pitcher without a right hand—these are the things great stories are made of. The characters inside your head will become just as riveting when you imagine their lives and dreams and personal challenges in a way that no one else ever could.

Before Suzanne Collins became famous for her dystopian trilogy The Hunger Games, she was simply a writer who asked questions. What if “reality TV” entertainment came at a truly violent price? What if ancient Greek myths and Roman gladiatorial games were ultimately reborn in North America’s future? The author’s imagination combined ideas and images until she had created something wholly memorable and new. This is the fiction writer’s brainstorming process.

Broad and Fine Brush Strokes: The Outlining Process

Sometimes, you’ll begin a story with a single vivid picture: an empty road at dusk, a half-submerged bridge, an ancestral castle. At other times, your mind’s eye will zoom in on the particulars: a red hair ribbon, a pile of shells, or a snippet of conversation. Like the broad sweeps of color and the fine details of a painting, both are important, and both equally valid starting points for a story. Now you need an outline, a place to organize your content and fill in the gaps.

We find a profound example of creative organization in the Genesis creation account. All is formless and empty in the beginning. Then the Author turns on the light, so to speak, and the work of outlining begins. He creates three major settings (aren’t there three acts in your story?): the sky, the water, and finally dry land. The broad brush strokes are complete.

A setting would be dreadfully dull without the props to build a scene. So the Creator/Author drapes the bare land with plants: twisting vines, shy flowers, and showy trees. He fills the sky with sparrow songs and eagle calls, and generously sprinkles the water with fins and scales and sticky tentacles. Don’t forget the land-dwelling creatures—hairy and slimy and everything in between! The scene is set with sounds and colors; there are pets to cuddle and foods to eat.

A scene is lifeless without characters to speak and hide and stumble and grow. Finally, the Author introduces a man and a woman. A romance is born, and a family line commences for better or worse. An epic story can come to life, for the work of outlining is now complete.

Careful Selection: The Storytelling Process

After so much brainstorming and outlining, it’s tempting to clutter our stories with too many people, unnecessary facts, and boring details. We must make careful, conscious selections. You would never serve 45 different dishes to your children for lunch. Your daughter would never expect you to paint her bedroom in 36 shades of pink, blue, and orange. Likewise, a good story doesn’t need every moral lesson (or every gruesome detail) from the author’s imagination.

Some parts of the story will ultimately remain in the writer’s head, so her readers can enjoy only the best parts.

This is why I love the portrayal of Walt Disney in the recent movie Saving Mr. Banks. Using every power of persuasion, Walt finally convinces Pamela Travers to let him make Mary Poppins (and the turbulent childhood memories it evokes) into a timeless, magical movie: “Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.”

Whether you’re writing for yourself, an audience of three, or the thousands in your circle of acquaintances, take the time and imagination to polish your story. Life is messy and cluttered, but good stories remind us of a world where order and hope and redemption are always possible.

WriteShop Blog--In Our Write Minds

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella also blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photos: Jim Lukach (shell), Brian Snelson (castle), Cushing Memorial Library (three ball players), Barney Moss (shell grotto), HA! Designs (bride), and Boston Public Library (1907 World Series), courtesy of Creative Commons

 

You Can’t Teach Writing: Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom

Why read the latest "Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom"? Because we have an enemy who likes to remind us of our fears and failures.

By Daniella Dautrich

PERHAPS you’ve heard whispers of lies such as this one: “You can’t teach writing.” Doubts about your schedule, curriculum, ability to grade, or your own writing background might tempt you to believe these problems are the measure of your homeschooling abilities. This loss of perspective can quickly take a homeschool mom captive.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis If “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), remember that your adversary will stop at nothing to blind you from the truth. In his classic The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis imaginatively portrays this epic battle.

I hope you find encouragement in this Screwtape Letter for today’s homeschool mom, adapted from the fifth, sixth, and seventh letters in Lewis’s book.

My dear Wormwood, 

Your last letter gives me much cause for disappointment, except where you mention the patient’s frustrations with teaching writing. This brings to mind all sorts of possibilities. In this unbalanced era of homeschooling, intense feelings about curriculum and extreme self-consciousness (or self-righteousness!) about writing abilities have often produced desirable results.

If She Lacks the Time…

If your patient is the type who loves writing, but has “no time to teach writing,” you will find your task quite amusing. Build the most unrealistic expectations in her head about the perfect writing lesson. Let her believe that her child’s peers in conventional schools spend hours each day on brilliant essay compositions. Prey on her dreams of perfectionism, and you will paralyze her greatest talents.

Let her believe that she will never have enough time, so she dare not even try. Do not let it occur to her that vocabulary skills can be taught in the kitchen while she fixes dinner, or that sentence building can become a game in the family car. Keep her in this state of ignorance, and you may enjoy the hilarious spectacle of a mother who loves writing, yet whose children hate words!

If She Lacks the Patience…

If you are going to tell me that your patient won’t teach writing because she “lacks the patience,” I know very well what state of mind you’re in. You take credit for an emotional crisis in the middle of a school day, do you? You have tasted the intoxicating anguish and bewilderment of a human soul. But remember, Wormwood, that duty comes before pleasure.

Do not allow your temporary excitement to distract you from the real business of undermining her faith. This tired mother has doubtless heard the Enemy’s adage that “patience is a virtue.” By no means let this saying—or any other Proverb or Beatitude—enter her mind.

You must guard against the attitude which treats homeschooling as a means for obedience to the Enemy. Never let your patient suspect that unpleasant writing lessons with her reluctant little ones might actually please Him. You want her to feel like a lamb at the slaughter—never like a willing servant offering up her time and talents.

If She Can’t Write…

If, on the other hand, your patient suffers from an actual oversight in her own early education and believes that she “cannot write,” your strategy will somewhat differ.

We want her to remain in the maximum uncertainty and confusion about how to teach writing and how to grade it. Fear and self-deprecation must immobilize her. Let her belittle herself.

Let her thoughts overflow with contradictory pictures of online tutorials and workbook exercises, long handwritten essays and oral narrations, letter grades and point systems. Lead her to think she should do it all, and that each one must find room in her daily homeschooling routine.

Most importantly, watch for any signs that your patient is willing to bear her daily cross. It doesn’t matter if this burden is relearning grammar late at night, or preparing from a teacher’s manual early each morning. If she overcomes her distaste or insecurity about these things for the sake of her child, we will lose valuable ground.

That is why you must always encourage a shadowy, overwhelming terror of something they call “teaching writing.” This vague notion will make her lose sight of any small, achievable goals in her own education or that of her children.

If She Prefers Math and Science…

In the final case, your patient may simply excel in math and science. By her Enemy-bestowed nature, she craves that which is measurable and quantifiable. She hesitates about writing because she perceives the subject is too fluid to teach and too subjective to grade. Prey upon this! Remind her often that teaching and evaluating writing rely too much upon guesswork

She may say she “hates writing,” but the results of such a melodramatic hatred are often most disappointing. Redirect the abstract malice in her soul toward proficient writers in her own social circle. The Enemy desires your patient to appreciate the talents of other homeschool moms. Whenever possible, He wants her to offer her talents in return. In this way the humans participate in a disgusting allegory of “the Body.” I have often witnessed this irritating arrangement in homeschool co-ops.

You may even lead the patient to believe that math and science are the only really important subjects—that writing nowadays has no worth at allThis will lead to a great deal of pride. Your patient will feel not only superior, but fashionably modern. 

Finally, whatever your patient’s particular strengths and struggles may be, you must not forget our ultimate goal. We want these dear little homeschooling mothers to downplay or ignore the written word, until they finally learn to reject the incarnate Word Himself.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

Read the original Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom.

::

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Photo: Elne (Neighya), courtesy of Creative Commons.

A short {brief, concise} history of synonyms

Did you know American English began as a hybrid of old British dialects? Teach your kids this fascinating history of synonyms!

If you’ve taught writing for awhile, this scene might sound familiar:

Mom: Let’s replace some of those repeated words with interesting synonyms.

Child (grumbling): Why do we have so many words that mean the same thing, anyway?

Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (David Hackett Fischer)Perhaps you’ve wondered about this yourself. If so, make yourself a mug of hot tea or coffee, dust off your copy of The Synonym Finder {the links in this post are my affiliate links because I’m convinced you will love these books}, and let’s have some fun exploring the history of English synonyms!

Although few of us can claim British ancestry, Americans share a cultural inheritance from the speech folkways of Great Britain. United States dialects find their origins in four separate waves of English immigrants, described in David Hacket Fischer’s marvelous cultural history, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Fischer has much to tell about English speech patterns, including some of the synonyms that emerged in colonial America.

English Puritans (1629-1641)

From the eastern counties of England, middle class Puritan families began a great migration to the New World in the early seventeenth century. Most of these families came from urban areas, and they settled the towns that became New England, New Jersey and New York.

The Puritan ministers and magistrates, trained in Latin at Cambridge University, brought a plethora of multi-syllable words to their New England pulpits. The country members of their congregations naturally adopted some of these formal words. New Englanders also invented words of their own with fancy-sounding Latinate endings, such as:

  • -ize, -ous
  • -ulate, -ticate
  • -ical, -iction
  • -acious, -iferous

When words like rambunctious and splendiferous began appearing for the first time, Boston especially became known for a “florid, pompous” style of speech.

Distressed Cavaliers & Indentured Servants (1642-1675)

The colony of Virginia was a welcome haven for the Royalist and Anglican elite. From the south and west of England they came, bringing the language and manners of London nobility. Quickly, the Virginia colony emerged as a hierarchical society, where upper-class families took pride in rank and reputation.

Most Virginia immigrants were young men who earned a living as poor tenant farmers (75% crossed the Atlantic as indentured servants). If they shared one thing in common with their masters, it was their set of regional speech patterns. For instance, a Virginian might use like instead of “as if” (“he looks like he’s sick”)—a sentence construction not found in New England. Virginians also had a distinct vocabulary:

  • Chomp for chew
  • Flapjack for pancake
  • Howdy for hello
  • Laid off for out of work
  • Skillet  for frying pan
  • Tarry for stay
  • Yonder for distant

These had become archaic words in Britain by late 1700s, but they survived and flourished in the American South.

The Society of Friends (1675-1725)

When William Penn recruited Quakers to settle in the Delaware Valley, thousands would settle in West Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Delaware. Some of these Quakers came from Holland and Germany, but it was the Irish, Welsh and English Friends who shaped the culture of the middle colonies.

English Quakers largely hailed from the North Midlands of England, a land originally colonized by Viking invaders. Norse-speaking shepherds and farmers were the ancestors of lower middle class Quakers, humble people who valued simplicity and hard work. They spoke in plain and forceful language, with little use for Latin and French.

The dialect of the North Midlands favored thee and thou in place of “you.” Horses whinnied instead of neighed, and farmers commonly exclaimed by golly, by gum, or good grief! Other distinctively northern terms that immigrated to the middle colonies include:

  • Bamboozle for deceive
  • Budge for move
  • Cuddle for caress
  • Dad for father
  • Flabbergasted for extremely surprised
  • Frightened for scared
  • Grub for food
  • Mad for angry
  • Nap for a short sleep
  • Sick for ill
  • Spuds for potatoes
  • Swatch for a fabric sample
  • Wed for married

The Borderland Immigration (1717-1775)

In the early eighteenth century, the first waves of a mass migration swept through the American colonies. Desperately poor and stubbornly proud, these men and women came from the North of Ireland, Scottish lowlands, and northernmost English counties. These borderlands, too accustomed to the wars and violence of competing monarchs, had harbored fighting men with fierce clan loyalties for centuries.

Unlike the other English immigrant groups, the border immigrants came to America in search of material prospects rather than religious freedom. In time, they came to settle in the American backcountry, an untamed wilderness from the Appalachian and Ozark Mountains to the lower Mississippi Valley. There, they introduced the southern highland speech, filled with critters and young-uns and hants (ghosts). The border immigrants brought distinctive vocabulary words from North Britain to America, including:

  • Brickle for brittle
  • Cute for attractive
  • Nigh for near
  • Scoot for slide
  • Honey as a term of endearment

As Albion’s Seed carefully explains, American English began as a wonderful hybrid of old British dialects. New words from the Indians, the Spaniards, and others added to our language over time, until the language emerged as we know it today. Encourage your children to enjoy this cultural heritage as they search for just the right words in their writing.

Happy synonym hunting!

WriteShop Blog--In Our Write MindsDaniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo:  Les Haines, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Kids need clear writing expectations

Kids need measurable, clear writing expectations. Achievable goals, specific directions, and consistency will boost confidence and skills

By Daniella Dautrich

When you have kids, you step into the role of teacher every moment of every day. Your toddlers and teens alike look to you for guidance and approval as they navigate a complex world of social interactions, household responsibilities, and time management.

Clear expectations from you make all the difference in their learning experience. If children fail to understand what you require, the confusion quickly leads to frustration or discouragement. The realm of writing is no exception.

You might not have an antique desk and blackboard or the perfect “teacher outfit” for the first day of school. But when it comes to teaching writing, I’m confident you’ll be the poised and prepared Writing Teacher of the Year if you avoid two common pitfalls!

The Insecure Parent: “A” for Effort

If you feel inadequate when it comes to teaching writing, it’s possible you’re requiring too little from your kids. Because teaching and grading writing are stressful, you may only ask for 15 minutes of journaling each week or give a purposeless assignment here and there just to say, “We did writing.”

If writing is rather hit-and-miss at your house, so is grading. Sometimes you comment on your kids’ papers, and sometimes you don’t. You’re an encourager at heart and desire to praise any of their efforts. More often than not, you liberally give checkmarks, smiley faces, and passing grades. It’s possible their writing and grammar mistakes continue to multiply simply because giving realistic feedback is hard for you.

The problem isn’t your fun-loving or soft-hearted spirit! Insecurity about teaching writing creates low expectations and inconsistency. This makes for a haphazard teaching style that not only creates a stumbling block for overwhelmed kids, but quenches their confidence as well.

The Unrealistic Parent: “A” for Perfection

The pendulum can swing the other way too!

If you have a background in English, love to write or blog, or consider yourself a grammar geek, you may have especially high standards for your children. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—but it can become a problem if you don’t set boundaries or communicate your requirements.

Be careful not to impose vague standards of perfection on your kids (which set them up for failure). Weighing them down with unclear (or unrealistic) expectations can turn them off to writing. Instead, give your children achievable goals so they know what to aim for.

The Write Solution

Giving clear writing expectations will help you raise better writers and reduce stress. That’s why I’m such a fan of teaching writing skills the WriteShop way. Red-pencil corrections such as “too vague” may leave your child scratching his head and wondering what he did wrong. Instead, before he first begins to write, make tasks concrete and give him measurable targets such as:

  • Write one paragraph of five to seven sentences.
  • Include emotion words to add a stronger voice.
  • Choose vivid, exciting words instead of dull, vague words.

Now, instead of marking your children’s writing as “too vague” or “too short,” you can instruct, guide, and correct with greater confidence. As you and your children practice communicating specific ideas, requests, and concerns, the clear expectations might just overflow into the rest of your home life as well.

Interested in learning more about WriteShop curriculum choices?

WriteShop Primary (grades K-3)
WriteShop Junior (grades 3-6)
WriteShop I and II (junior high/high school)

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Steven S., courtesy of Creative Commons.
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